Music is the best medicine
The doctor who formed Pro Musica Divinia Orchestra speaks about the group and its concert tonight
THIS MONTH brings not only the first concert of the new season from the Pro Musica Divina Orchestra, it also marks the maiden award of the bursary for promising young talent sponsored by this ensemble.
This year’s recipient is matriculant Daniel Fisher, a tenor embarking on his first year of study at the University of Cape Town, under the tuition of Associate Professor Virginia Davids.
Looking back on 12 years of passion, effort and energy required to establish the Pro Musica Divina Orchestra, conductor-composer Dr Steven van der Merwe recalls: “I was new to conducting then and formed the ensemble using mainly freelancers, who seemed happy to contribute. Today we have a strong corps of musicians; there are 17 players in toto, 13 strings, two horns and two flutes.”
The common denominator driving the orchestra is a commitment to keep music alive, particularly in the south peninsula.
Van der Merwe, who has a medical practice in Simon’s Town, is emphatic that music and medicine are interdependent: “You cannot have one without the other – music heals the mind, medicine heals the body.
“In fact, that is an ambition of mine: to explore the element of spiritual well-being promoted by music. I have a fair amount to do with oncology at present and the healing power of music is remarkable.”
The orchestra’s last concert featured English composers (Elgar, Britten, Delius and Warlock), and Van der Merwe says a number of people who attended said how spiritually satisfying they had found the music, some of which was unfamiliar to them.
Like many programmers, Van der Merwe laments the conservative nature of concertgoers, who tend to shun a performance which includes new or rarely heard works. The first concert of 2010 runs no risk in this department, as it features compositions by Bach, Mozart and Schubert.
“I chose JC Bach’s Sinfonia Opus 3, No 1, paired with Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 5 and Mozart’s Symphony No 29, since the latter works clearly show the influence of the former – Bach was Mozart’s teacher.
“Schubert’s Ave Maria was added because our first bursar, Daniel, is making a guest appearance and that piece suits his voice.”
On the subject of the new bursary, Van der Merwe says: “Brenda Feldtmann, director of the Silvermine Music Academy, approached us about raising funds to assist gifted students, and we decided that in future the proceeds from our January concert would go to what is now the Pro Musica Divina Bursary Concert Fund.
“Brenda is well placed to identify potential recipients and the first one is Daniel, a local lad who sang the lead in his school play, Grease. Obviously from that to a career in opera is a significant step demanding a lot of training and hard work, but he appears to have the necessary dedication as well as talent and deserves a chance.”
Concerts by the Pro Musica Divina Orchestra have moved from venue to venue, but Van der Merwe has identified St Norbert’s Priory in Kommetjie as “home” to the ensemble. “It’s perfect for a larger-scale concert such as this one, with good acoustics and plenty of safe parking. We’re starting early – at 6pm – so that concertgoers can socialise or go to dinner afterwards.”
The doctor is enrolled for a Master’s degree in composition, under the highly praised mentorship of PeterLouis van Dijk. He also has a number of compositions to his credit. Between music and medicine, Van der Merwe has his hands full.
The Mozart & Bach concert from the Pro Musica Divina Orchestra is at 6pm tonight at St Norbert’s Priory, Rubbi Road, Kommetjie. For tickets, phone 021 786 2133 or 021 786 1697.